Wrong Girl, Right Girl
What’s a nice Jewish girl like you doing in a place like India? (3/2006)
Inspired by a recent trip to India, and two lovely women
On her 41st birthday, after a nice quiet dinner with some close friends, Katherine was again alone in her home. How did I get here? she asked her cat. The cat just licked its paw twice and curled back into a comfortable snoozing position on the foot of Katherine’s bed. The wise cat sensed that by “here” Katherine didn’t mean America or Texas or Dallas or even this home. She meant here in her life, alone at 41.
Not that Katherine felt lonely. She didn’t, at least most of the time. But on birthdays and holidays and other special occasions, the reality of her solitude hit her in the face like a damp rag. There were times when she wanted to share her life with someone. And those times were becoming more and more frequent.
Katherine had many friends, mostly couples by now. Now and again, she’d tag along for dinner or a movie or both. Always well-meaning, her married friends were always trying to set her up.
He’s a doctor.
He’s a great guy. Smart, funny, handsome.
He’s not Jewish, but he’s perfect otherwise.
She’d dated enough through the years. Even got serious with a few of them. David, she’d dated him for over a year. Jonathan over two. When her friends asked her why she’d broken up with these men, the best Katherine could offer was, “He’s just not the one for me.”
He’s just not the one for me.
At 39, Katherine made a new friend. Her name was Lisa. Lisa, it turned out, was in the same circle of friends as Katherine, just somehow always on the other side of it. But Lisa had recently divorced her husband of almost 15 years and like a slingshot, her position within the circle suddenly became near that of Katherine, on the single side.
Different from one another as Mother Teresa and Madonna, Katherine and Lisa somehow managed to become close friends. Katherine admired Lisa’s adventurous, free spirit and her willingness to try absolutely anything, usually more than once. Lisa admired Katherine’s quiet confidence, her effortless grace. Katherine admired Lisa’s perky prettiness. Lisa admired Katherine’s more subtle beauty.
One evening, Lisa knocked on Katherine’s door. Before she’d even fully entered Katherine’s living room, she said, “I have a crazy idea.”
It was not the first time she’d said this to Katherine, and Katherine sensed the familiar excited look in Lisa’s eyes, the sheen of sweat glistening from her neck and face.
“Let’s hear it,” Katherine replied. She sat back down at her kitchen table where she’d been pouring over a stack of financial spreadsheets for her and her brother’s business.
“Let’s go to India. You and me. Whaddya say? It’ll be a blast!”
Katherine silently looked up in amazement at her wacky friend. Finally she said, “What the hell would we do in India?”
“What do you mean ‘what would we do in India?’ We’d see the Taj Mahal, go to Delhi, maybe Bombay – I think they call that something else now – and we could call Ramesh. He lives in Delhi now. Remember him?”
“Sure. He went back to get married, right?”
“Yep. I emailed him yesterday and he said he’d be happy to show us around Delhi and even help us with our reservations everywhere.”
Ten minutes later, Katherine relented. Lisa could always get her to do cockamamie things, go to cockamamie places. They’d already gone to New Zealand, South Africa and Russia.
When the time came for the trip, the two women had a drink in the airport bar before their flight departed.
“Here’s to a great friend that drags me all manner of places,” Katherine toasted.
“Here’s to a friend that joins me on my many adventures,” Lisa toasted in return.
India was like nothing either woman had ever seen. It was sheer, utter, maddening chaos. But somehow it was organized chaos, or at least mostly organized chaos. It was beautiful and hideous. It was full of magnificent palaces and devastating poverty. The people were friendly and warm, but the ever-present and ultra-aggressive touts were a horrible blight. The streets were overflowing with buses, cars, motorcycles, scooters, motorized rickshaws, bicycle rickshaws, bicycles, pedestrians, elephants, camels, cows, goats, pigs, rangy flea-ridden dogs, all weaving and zigging and zagging around the men and women selling all manner of colorful goods.
Towards the end of the trip, Katherine and Lisa decided to treat themselves to a night at the luxurious Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur. The hotel, in the middle of lovely, serene Lake Pichola, offered the two women a well-needed respite from the sensory overload of their trip. Both were having trouble with the spicy Indian food. Both were exhausted from the breakneck pace Lisa had set for their trip. And they had to get up early the next morning to catch their morning flight back to Delhi so that they could head back home to the United States the following day.
Lisa saw him first. He had been sitting a few rows in front of them on the Jet Airways flight from Jaipur to Udaipur. She didn’t give him a second glance or thought.
Later, Katherine noticed him at the airport as he waited for his bags.
“He’s kind of cute,” Katherine said to Lisa.
“Really? You think so?” was all Lisa said in response.
Several hours later, in the lobby of the hotel, they saw him again.
Katherine’s breath caught when she saw him. Was he staying here, at their hotel?
As the two women firmed up their travel plans at the concierge’s desk, he walked up to where they were sitting.
“Hello. Weren’t you on the plane from Jaipur?”
“We were. I thought I recognized you,” Katherine said.
“I thought so,” the man said. “I saw you briefly on the plane and then again in the baggage claim area, but I didn’t want to appear overly forward.” Like I surely do now.
“My name is Mark,” he added. What’s a nice Jewish girl like you doing in a place like India?
“Hi, I’m Lisa and this is my friend Katherine.” She thinks you’re cute. “We’re from Dallas.”
“It’s nice to meet you both,” Mark said. Lisa and Katherine. Lisa and Katherine. Lisa and Katherine. Must… burn… into… brain… “I’m from San Francisco.”
The three travelers chatted briefly before Mark noticed a man across the lobby begin speaking to a small cluster of people surrounding him.
“Well, the tour of the hotel I’m taking is just starting. I hope to see you both later,” Mark said, and willed it to be true.
As Mark followed the guide around the hotel, he could hear the man blather on about the Maharajah’s son this and the Maharajah’s son that, but his mind was elsewhere, as they say. When the tour ended 45 minutes later, about all Mark could remember was that the Maharajah’s son wanted a party in the other palace on the other island but his father wouldn’t let him, so the son built this palace on this island. At some point, Mark wasn’t really sure when, the palace became a hotel.
After the hotel tour was a 45-minute boat ride around the lake, the so-called “sunset cruise.” Given the summer season and the almost 20 foot drop in the lake’s water level, the cruise couldn’t get anywhere near the shore, but could still take tourists to the Maharajah’s palace – the one Dad wouldn’t let Son use for the party.
Katherine wasn’t feeling well enough to go on the sunset cruise, but Lisa rallied nicely from having spent the day receiving an I.V. from the on-call physician and decided to give it a try.
“Hey, if you see that Mark guy, why don’t you invite him to dinner?” Katherine called out to Lisa before she left to catch the cruise. “You know, he’s traveling all alone and all.”
Lisa just smiled a wicked smile at her friend and then headed down the stairs to catch the boat.
Sure enough, he was there in the lobby, apparently waiting to take the boat ride as well.
“Hi Lisa,” Mark said when he noticed her. Yesss! Remembered her name!
“Hi,” Lisa replied, showing Mark her legendary Dallas Cowgirl smile.
The two chatted together for a while as they waited for the guide and boat to be ready. Lisa told Mark that she hadn’t been feeling well and that she’d needed the on-call doctor to administer an I.V. during the day.
Mark bought two bottles of water, and insisted that Lisa drink lots of it. Lisa was touched that he was concerned for her health and considerate enough to play mother hen.
“Would you like to join Katherine and me for dinner later?”
“I’d like that very much. Thank you.” Mark was pleased not to have to dine alone, and thrilled with the idea of being in the company of two such beautiful women.
Lisa and Mark boarded the small boat that took them and a few other tourists around the lake and over to the other palace. Much like he had been during the hotel tour, Mark couldn’t concentrate on the details being given by the guide. Lisa, too, seemed content to spend the time chatting with the kind man she’d just met. He and Katherine would be perfect together.
As the boat ride came to an end, Lisa said to Mark, “See you at 8:30.”
“Okay, sounds great. See you then.”
Ninety minutes. In those 90 minutes, Mark had all manner of thoughts fly through his head. He finally calmed himself down, took a shower, and put on the Korta Pyjamas he’d bought in Delhi to wear at his friend’s wedding in Jaipur. “Oh well, this is as good as it gets,” he murmured to himself as he looked in the mirror one last time before leaving to meet the ladies.
In the same 90 minutes, Lisa and Katherine watched a movie on one of the few English language channels. By 8:30, the hero still hadn’t escaped his perilous situation, but neither minded.
Mark waited in the lobby. He’d brought with him a care package for the women – a few Pepcid AC pills and some powdered Gatorade-like stuff that, when mixed with water, resulted in an electrolyte-filled but horrible tasting potion.
Lisa came downstairs first. She looked magnificent in a sleeveless top that accentuated her toned arms, her golden skin and her athletic figure.
“Katherine will be right down,” Lisa said. “Let’s go on in. She knows to meet us at the table.”
“All right,” Mark said. He opened the door and followed Lisa inside. Wow, she sure is pretty.
Before the waiter could bring a bottle of water to the table, Katherine entered the restaurant and approached the table. She was more conservatively dressed than her friend, but just as stunning, in a quieter, you-have-to-look-twice kind of way.
Over dinner, the three travelers traded stories of their time in the great land of India, of the country’s maddening contradictions, its strange customs and awe-inspiring sights.
The three talked through dinner and into the night. Katherine was intrigued by Mark’s apparent intelligence and kindness. Mark was blinded by Lisa’s beauty. Lisa, wishing that Mark would take more notice of Katherine, kept trying to steer the conversation, and Mark’s eyes, to Katherine. Still, the awkward triangle aside, the three were the last to leave the restaurant.
When the evening ended, Mark thanked the two women for the invitation to dinner and the pleasure of their company. Before he left, Mark quietly asked Lisa for her phone number. Lisa, smarter than she looked and every bit a loyal friend to Katherine, cleverly wrote down Katherine’s phone number. I hope he calls, she thought. They’d be so good together.
Katherine was saddened when she noticed Mark discreetly approach Lisa after they left the table. She was sure that he’d asked Lisa for her phone number. Katherine was crushed when she saw Lisa take out a pen and piece of paper in response. But she was used to Lisa getting all the attention. It happened everywhere they went together. She shrugged, and said nothing. Even when the two women were flying back to Dallas. Even after they were back.
A year later, Mark was reflecting on his trip to India, flipping through the photographs he’d taken. As impressed as he was with the Taj Mahal, which he’d seen on his overnight trip to Agra, Mark could not say that it was the most awe-inspiring thing he’d experienced on the trip.
Katherine. Not Lisa.
And he hadn’t asked her for her phone number. He didn’t have a way to contact her. Didn’t even know her last name. Worse, a few days after he returned from India, after realizing that Lisa wasn’t right for him, he’d crumbled and thrown away the phone number she had given him.
Lisa wasn’t right for me. Katherine was. How could I be so blind?
I need to find her. But how? Think, damn it! Think!
It took him two days to remember, but when he did, he was on the next plane out of SFO. Dallas, Katherine, here I come!
It took him two more days to track her down, and another two days to ask her to marry him. Katherine said yes without hesitation. And Lisa happily served as the couple’s maid of honor.