I like this man. A lot. Go on, Debu.
He continued, ‘It’s all this bullshit men spread. To scare women out of a role or position. Fact is, men are shit-scared of talented women like you.’
Okay, I had a challenge bigger than distressed debt tonight. I had to ensure Debu made a move, so some naughtiness could happen. Of course, because I am a woman, I somehow also had to pretend to be innocent, as if I had no role to play in making anything happen. I had to steer him without him realizing he had been steered.
The waiter brought us our final course of codfish served with miso sauce.
‘Wow,’ Debu said as he took a bite, ‘best fish I have ever tasted. In fact, maybe the best thing I have ever tasted.’
‘Yeah. Well, there’s still dessert, save the best for the last,’ I said.
Was that double meaning? Fuck, don’t slutify yourself.
He laughed. Did he get the reference?
‘You know Bongs and mishti,’ he said. No, he didn’t. Be careful. Always give out a chaste good-Indian-girl vibe.
‘How’s work?’ I said.
‘It’s great. Under Armor account is almost in,’ he said and crossed his fingers.
‘I am sure it will come in,’ I said.
‘It will be my first big win. My boss said if I get it I get promoted to senior creative associate.’
‘That sounds a lot cooler than distressed debt associate.’
‘You get the bucks. That’s cool enough,’ he said.
Somehow I never wanted to discuss the money I made with Debu. I had to shift the topic back to him.
‘Under Armor is a cutting-edge brand. I saw their store yesterday. Great stuff,’ I said.
‘I can’t wait to work on their campaign.’
We had a dark chocolate mousse cake with orange sauce as our last dish.
‘Great choice of restaurant, Radhika,’ Debu said. ‘At first I thought this place too fancy, but look at the food. Wow.’
We finished our meal and the bill arrived. The waiter handed it to Debu, but I plucked it from his hands. I had told Debu it would be my treat. I had a quick look. The bill came to 200 dollars. I placed the cash in the bill folder and handed it to the waiter.
‘Is it a lot?’ Debu said. ‘It is, isn’t it? Why did you spend so much?’
‘Look, I wanted to celebrate with you. My only true friend in New York. So thank you for being there.’
I held my champagne glass high. He did the same and made a toast.
‘Congratulations. To my talented friend Radhika, who will kick ass at distressed debt and show the men how it is done,’ he said.
We decided to walk from Aquagrill to the Benjamin Hotel, a half-an-hour stroll. From there Debu could get a direct ‘4’ train to Brooklyn. I had thirty minutes to get this man to make a move. A part of me wanted to scream, Oh Debu, just kiss me already.
Of course, a lifetime of brainwashing to be a ‘good Indian girl’ would never allow me to do that.
He didn’t make any move. However, he did say amazing things on our walk.
‘It’s really important that women do well. It sets an example for other younger women. It inspires them,’ he said.
‘Who am I inspiring?’ I said, my mind filled with alternate thoughts. Did he notice my legs yet? Did dinner make my stomach less flat? Are my boobs in place? Can this guy walk slower so I can keep up in my heels?
‘Of course you are an inspiration. To your younger cousins, for example. I am sure they will see their Radhika didi and want to be like her.’
‘What?’ he said.
‘I don’t know. My sister Aditi has more fans. She barely graduated. She knows make-up and clothes way better than me, though.’
That is when Debu said something, something even better than the amazing things he had said about my work and intelligence.
‘You have great taste in clothes,’ he said.
Oh, I love this man. He must be partially blind but I love this man.
‘Really?’ I said. I found it hard to take a compliment that didn’t involve grades or job interviews.
‘Yeah. You have this subtle, understated style. This red dress, pardon me, but. . .’
‘But what?’ I said. Is it ripped somewhere? I thought in horror.
‘Pardon me, but it makes you look so hot,’ he said.
Oh Debu! Bless him, gods. Give him any advertising account he wants. For the first time in my life, apart from when I had fever, I had been associated with the word hot. Someone in this world found me hot. Hot. Fuck, Radhika, someone called you hot. My soul break-danced inside me.
‘Really?’ I said, my tone as casual as possible, even as I fished for more.
‘Yeah. You don’t mind me saying that, I hope.’
Do I mind? Bring it on, dude. We have ten more minutes to reach the hotel. Please keep praising me. The shallower the better. Make it only about clothes, looks and legs. Those are the compliments I miss. Of course, I have to say it in a way that he doesn’t think I am too keen.
‘No, I don’t mind. Usually we talk about more intellectual and work-related stuff. It is strange but no, it’s okay. Curious to see how you men think,’ I said and giggled like an idiot.
‘I think you have a nice figure,’ he said.
Which part, which part? I wanted to scream in excitement. Do you like my waist? Boobs? Ass? Be articulate, Debu.
‘Really?’ I said, dragging out the word, as if I never expected this. I punched his shoulder—subtle encouragement and fake shyness all rolled into one.
‘Yeah. Your legs, I mean. . .you have nice legs.’
‘Oh, so that is all you like about me?’
Desperate, lame, stupid. What was that, Radhika? I told myself as I fished. Oh I didn’t just fish. I sent a fishing team with a trailer to catch a shipload.
‘No, no. I like your face too. Your hair. Your eyes. Your whole personality, actually.’
‘Yeah, yeah. Now you will say all this. It’s about the legs, right?’
It better be about the legs. I paid 100 dollars to Completely Bare.
‘No, no. Sorry. . . I mean. . .’
‘Relax, Debu. I am kidding,’ I said and squeezed his warm hand. I didn’t want to let go of it. However, I didn’t want it to count as a move either. Why do we girls have to follow so many rules? If he likes my whole personality, why can’t I be fully me?