Part 1 is here.
The morning of the plays, I was surprised to be called in to see Mrs. Kapadia. As our senior class homeroom teacher, she had some jurisdiction over me, but I had no reason to suspect that I was in any trouble. I was known as the loud-mouthed atheist hippie kid who never actually broke any school rules, because I simply wasn’t interested in smoking or drinking or the daring dorm escapes that my peers got busted for (when caught).
“I need to talk to you about something,” she said. Then, ominously: “You’ve been seen with Sudhir Thapliyal.”
I was baffled. “Huh? So? You introduced me to him!”
“Yes, but… he’s got a reputation. And his wife has just left him.”
“She left him before I even met him!”*
“It doesn’t matter. This is India. As the other woman, you’ll be blamed.”
“I’m not the other woman! We’re not even doing anything!”
This was true. We had only been together in public, and he had rarely touched me at all, let alone made any “moves”. As far as I knew, any sexual or romantic feelings were solely my own teenage fantasies. I had no sense of myself as being physically attractive; the only guy who’d ever shown any interest in me at school was Krishna. I could not believe that anyone could imagine anything going on between me and a charismatic, sophisticated, older man.
I was nearly crying with rage and humiliation at the unfairness of this, tears which Mrs. Kapadia apparently took as an admission of heartbreak, or guilt.
“What am I supposed to do?” I pleaded. “He’s a friend. He’s coming here tonight to see the plays.”
“You have to tell him that you can’t see him again. You can do that tonight.”
I reluctantly agreed – this would be marginally better than having a staff member speak to him – but I set a condition: “Don’t tell Mrs. Silver about this.”
Mrs. Silver had been our dorm supervisor for three years, “growing up” in that role with our class in particular. She knew us well, and was a generous surrogate mother to me and others. I loved her dearly and knew that she would not judge harshly, but for some reason I did not want her to know about this… whatever it was.
Mrs. Kapadia promised not to tell, but must have known that it was already too late: within the hour, Mrs. Silver – who clearly had already heard all about it – was weeping over me for having my poor gullible heart broken.
Humiliation burned deeper: it seemed that many of the staff knew, and pitied my naiveté: I supposed they thought that I imagined he would take me away to live in his Himalayan kingdom forever. I considered this deeply insulting to my intelligence and maturity: I was inexperienced – but not stupid.
Whatever fantasies I entertained about Sudhir (and they were many), we both knew that I’d be leaving for college in the US at the end of the school year. Maybe we’d be friends long-term, but I was certainly not going to throw away my life plans for him. Nor was he likely to ask me to. How could anyone possibly imagine otherwise?
I waited through the rest of the day in anxious anticipation. What was I going to say? That I was in trouble because some gossips were telling tales that weren’t even true? I burned with the injustice, and with embarrassment at having to allude to a purely imaginary sexual relationship between us.
As evening fell, I waited in the lobby outside the school auditorium. He was late, but that was just as well. Everyone else went in to watch the show, while I sat alone on a bench in the vast, cold, dimly-lighted space.
Finally, he came bounding in from the outside door, the sharp, cold smell of mountain air clinging to his clothes. After a glance around the deserted foyer, he took my chin in his hand, tilted my head up, and kissed me swiftly – just a peck, but it was on the lips.
I pulled away, startled. This was the first unambiguously romantic gesture he had made, and the timing couldn’t be worse. Realizing he’d made a mistake, he drew back and sat down beside me, not too close.
“What’s up? You look worried.”
“Mrs. Kapadia called me in today,” I began haltingly. “People are talking about us in town. Someone saw us having lunch together.”
“What are they saying?”
“That… that we’re having an affair. And it’s my fault your wife left.”
At first, he seemed more focused on identifying the author of the gossip, than concerned about any effects on me.
“It must have been G, he saw us together a couple of times,” Sudhir ruminated.
I’d been introduced to G at Ruskin’s house, and had recognized him on one or two other occasions in town. “But who would have brought the gossip to the school…?” Sudhir continued. “Ah, yes: [a staff member]. She’s jealous – wants me for herself.” I had no idea if that was true, but someone had to have reported the story to Mrs. Kapadia, and it didn’t seem likely to have been G.
“They told me I have to stop seeing you. I’m supposed to tell you that.” My eyes filled with tears and I looked away, awash with embarrassment and sorrow.
He took my hand, and with his other hand turned my face toward his, looking into my eyes. There was a long pause.
“I love you, and you love me,” he said simply. “What are they going to do about it?”
I was stunned. He loved me? Just like that? How was that even possible? What could he possibly feel for a gawky girl like me?
“We’ll just have to make sure that you don’t get in trouble with the school,” he added, with a smile.
* That his wife had left him the day before I met him was the coincidence that my screenwriting teacher had felt to be implausible (read Part 1 for that).
ps I finally got around to finishing and publishing this piece because yesterday, July 13th, was Sudhir’s birthday. He would have been 68.