An Encounter at Khan Market

I was standing in the middle lane of Khan Market trying to remember where I’d seen the Amici restaurant. I had been passing by less than half an hour earlier, but I wasn’t able to retrace my steps. I had decided to leave off the search and ask somebody, but not just anybody, when I saw a young woman approaching. I let her come near me before I politely asked her if she knew the whereabouts of Amici. I wasn’t really able to follow her left and right turns, she must have noticed and said; Oh come on I will walk you there. 

We fell into step and then came the inevitable question; Where are you from? Which is almost always followed by; First time in India?

I know that if I answer that second question I will be subject to yet another; What is it that you like about India?

I’m not really able to give an exact answer to that question because things often fall into place when I come here. India just feels right to me. But I settled for something about colours and vitality when she exclaimed; 

– I hate to live in India! 

I didn’t know what would be an appropriate answer, but before I could think of something she went on somewhat triumphantly; – I used to live in London.

She was walking with a certain self-assurance. High heels, tight jeans, an elegant blouse, a classy handbag and long, slightly curly hair drawn back with fashionable sunglasses.

I came back for my wedding, she went on, and her voice was so full of spite that I needn’t turn my face to see what her body language gave away. It was the way she said it. As if she had been a spectator to her own wedding, rather than taking part in a happy occasion.

Somehow I could see a strong-willed mother looming in the background. Asking her daughter to leave London and come home. Reminding her of family obligations. Traditions. Expectations. And a daughter at the other end of the line; full of disobedience yet not being able to dismiss her mother entirely.

– You see I just got married, she said, as if she wanted to underline what she just had told me. But I think I’m going back, she said in a voice full of willfulness.

I couldn’t resist it, and said: – And will your husband come with you to London? – My husband likes to live in India, she said in a short tone unveiling an incipient gap between husband and wife. And went on; – I will go, and see what happens. But both the certainty and willfulness in her voice was replaced by a hint of doubt. 

– We’re here, she said and nodded towards an entrance. I had almost forgotten why I was walking along with her. It had been just a short walk and not many words spoken really. Still, she had allowed me, a chance stranger, a peep into her life that seemed full of confusion and frustration at the time.  

And then she was lost to me. 

The encounter stayed with me through a bowl of pasta. I was silently repeating her words as I lingered over coffee. It was a chance meeting, still alive in my imagination, and I can’t let go of her. I sometimes wonder about her whereabouts. Her husband. I hope she has a good life. After all.

Anne-Trine Benjaminsen

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