Click here to read Part I, in which our heroine conquers dry cleaning, sari wrapping and an unexpected toll booth.
I’d barely said a prayer in the dark terrain of Noida before the hotel loomed up before me. I circled around back as the parking signs directed, down a colonnade with cobblestone and planted ferns, still feeling like I looked a bit loopy, but glad my troubles had come to an end for the night. (Or so I thought.)
But instead of ushering me into the parking garage, the attendant ushered me right out the back gate! I slowed to a halt and gave him a confused look. What, did he also think my sari wasn’t very fancy? I told him, obstinately, like I had told Rabi, “I’m GOING to a WEDDING!” And gestured emphatically at the hotel building. He nodded and gestured just as emphatically at the mall parking far on the other side of the muddied maintenance road. Apparently, they don’t let scooters in their underground parking lot.
Behave like you know what you’re doing, I told myself again, nodded knowingly, and followed his directions, sinking a bit lower in my seat.
I parked by a long line of cars in front of a bustling mini-mall, straightened and re-tucked as best I could. I stowed my helmet, smoothed my hair, and wobbled on my heels all the long distance back to the hotel. across the gravel lot, giving the attendant a curt nod as I strutted past. I made it to the front doors right as the taxi bearing my three friends pulled up.
We were ushered inside and up a long escalator toward the sound of festivities. At the top we entered a large hall with crystal ceiling and gilt tiled floor. Lavish bouquets sat on tables and a buffet lined both walls. We wandered forward, eyes wide. Just as we entered the main ballroom, I heard a snap.
My friends made their way up to the dias where the bride and groom sat, and I retreated, limping, clutching one broken, spangled shoe in my hands. The main strap had torn off from the side — or rather, it had come unglued. (So okay, I’d bought the cheap ones. I was only planning to wear them just once . . . four weddings ago.) I hobbled toward the ladies room as gracefully as possible, cursing my tiny purse that meant I didn’t have anything useful on me.
There was a crowd of beautiful women gathered in front of the long line of bathroom mirrors. One of them I recognized as the mother of the groom, and I said hello.
“Oh, do you have a comb?” one of the other guests asked.
“No,” I sighed. “No glue either.”
But they hadn’t noticed my shoe and looked a bit confused by this answer. They were caught up in a minor crises of their own; it was the mother of the groom’s hair they were trying to do, but they had nothing to fix it with, and she was missing the photos.
“Here, I’ll go ask around,” I said, kicking off my other shoe and stashing the pair under the nearest sink. It was very convenient for Cinderella that she lost her shoe on the way out of the ball, I thought, realizing I was setting a new record for under-dressed.
After being abandoned at the photos, my friends were surprised to find me shoe-less, wandering through tables of strangers, asking for a hairbrush. One of the groom’s cousins strung his arms over our shoulders. “Hey girls, you ready for the after party?”
“But we just got here,” one of us said.
“Do you have a comb?” I asked.
Eventually (many confused expressions, and uncomfortable strangers, later), I returned to the bathroom empty handed. The housekeeping had been able to help them, luckily, and I found my shoes again, arranged them to look unbroken (much to the chagrin of the person who ended up taking them, I’m sure), and placed them where they would not be confused with trash. Then I practiced standing stooped like a Greek statue so my feet didn’t show. I might not have if I’d noticed the bathroom attendant watching me curiously.
I jumped a little when saw her. Then pretended to laugh at myself. I pointed to the shoes. “Broken,” I said. “Don’t throw them away.” It may have just been “Don’t throw them,” which I hoped was the same thing.
I was waylaid on the way out by the crowd going to the “after party,” which it turned out was a room upstairs that served as a sort of speakeasy for non-vegetarian food. The hotel room was snug for a party, but that just meant this wasn’t the kind that involved dancing (something hard to do while standing statuesquely). It had one of those large windows that faces awkwardly into the bathroom, and another larger one that looked out over the strip mall. It seemed very small from six floors up, and had obviously closed in the 45 minutes since I’d arrived. There was my little red scooter in the dead center of a dark, and entirely empty, parking lot.
Maybe it was the air-conditioning switching on, but an ominous chill came over me. I’d had the scooter less than a week, and my biggest fear beyond an accident, was that it might get towed. My personal rule for never letting this happen was to always park where there were plenty of other vehicles. (I have since then proved this theory very wrong, but that’s for another blog post.) Here I was breaking my own rule in just about the most flagrant way I could imagine.
At least I had the perfect vantage point. I would be able to see a tow truck coming for a kilometer in three directions, and I planted myself there by the window till it was announced the ceremony would be starting downstairs.
The ceremony took place on the large balcony behind the hotel. We were handed blankets and cups of cold milk, but they weren’t enough to keep me from greatly regretted both my silk sari and my bare feet. We watched as a sleepy-looking wedding party sat beneath a canopy of flowers. We weren’t familiar enough with the ceremony to understand what they were doing, and too cold to give it much thought. Though in retrospect, the dark night sky and the crisp air, with the flowers and the fire burning in the middle of it all, gave it a sort of exotic romance. It’s common that many of the guests don’t stay for that portion of the evening, and it felt like we were being let in on something private and sacred.
Halfway through, I whispered to my friend Stevie, “I’m just going to go check if my scooter is still there.” I tiptoed around to the edge of the balcony and peered over into the back lot. I was surprised to find that I could see it quite well from that angle, but what really caught my attention was the police jeep parked next to it with its lights flashing . . .
To be concluded in part III