Read Part II to discover why our heroine has lost her shoes and is about to lose her ride home.
I don’t even know if I told anyone where I was going, though I recall saying something politely to Stevie about my scooter being impounded. I may have just taken off running. If you’ve ever sprinted down an escalator barefoot wearing a long piece of fabric that has not been pinned and . . . well, of course you haven’t. It’s not a thing people regularly do.
That was beginning to be the theme for the night.
Which is perhaps why security didn’t stop me as I ducked through the glass front doors, my skirt scandalously hiked, and careened down the asphalt toward the rear-parking.
The gate, of course, was shut and barred. No matter. I was wearing silk. And if I thought I’d been dieting for the midriff-baring ensemble, I had in fact been cutting back for this unforeseen moment when I was to squeeze through the iron bars of the gate. After all, it was meant to keep cars out. And I was not a car.
In retrospect, I figure the security guard was actually not far off and watching me at this exact moment, it’s a measure of my alarm that I didn’t even look around before slipping easily through the slats of the gate. And I kept right on sprinting, gravel or not.
The scene of the crime, when I arrived, was not what I had expected. There was my Vespa, yes. There was the police jeep, with it’s light flashing. And there were four officers in the jeep, that seemed, for all I could tell, to be sleeping.
One of them roused at my arrival and alerted the others, and then a skinny but tall, gangly, sort of fellow emerged from the back seat of the vehicle. He didn’t seem to know what to say any more than I did, but manage some sort of greeting.
Out of breath from fear and running, I mustered, “Are you . . . are you going to . . . this is my scooter,” I said finally, reluctant to give them any suggestions.
“Ah, yes yes. No,” he said, bewilderingly, and perhaps also bewildered.
“I’m at a wedding, at the hotel. This is where they told me to park!”
“Yes, yes. No.” Again. “Where are you from?”
“I live in Delhi.”
“Very close to here,” I said, worried they might think it suspect for me to be out alone late at night like that. And it was true; despite the dramatic toll-bridge crossing, it had taken me all of three turns to get there and one of them had been a wrong turn.
He considered this. “You live with your husband?”
Oh . . . oh no.
“My brother. My large brother,” I said. “He’s very protective.”
“Yes,” he said, pulling out his pad.
A ticket, I thought. But he asked for my Indian phone number.
I gave it to him.
“This is okay,” he said gesturing to my vehicle, with the characteristic Indian head wobble.
“It’s okay?” relief animated my response.
“Yes, yes.” This time no, “No.” I believed him. I’ve never known an Indian who wasn’t true to his word. Besides that, the guys in the jeep were looking very enthusiastic. I think one even gave me a thumbs-up.
“Oh, thank you!”
“Yes, yes. Ok.” Head wobble again.
The man at the gate opened it for me on my return, and I was too happy not to have to climb through it to mind how very wide his eyes were. Cinderella, again, was a better planner than I was: She didn’t have to return to the ball after running out of it. But it requires a certain kind of magic to reappear after something like that, no one knowing the better. (“You are always disappearing,” someone remarked, “where do you go?”)
Of course, I’d made it back just in time for the pictures. To my great relief, I have never seen these and I can imagine what I want about them.
Ode to the Shoes That Will Never Return
We walked through the back alleys of Old Delhi together
at midnight, past the people living there in the ash on their cots
You were cheap but not cheap enough for every occasion
I bought you because you were the only shoes my size
in the only shop that was open
on the only day the market was closed.
We always forgot about that.
But I liked you a lot anyway.
We climbed the ruins of the Lodhi tombs together
and punched holes in the lawn of the Cathedral Church of the Redemption
after a rainy New Years wedding.
and you shredded my sari more than once with your spangles
and I got caught kicking you off
so I wouldn’t be too tall in the photos.
I said goodbye to my friends and went back to the restroom to find my pumps where I had stashed them. That is, of course, not where they were. I knew that even if I could run across asphalt without them, I would not be able to ride home on a motor scooter without them. I hurried from the bathroom, dismayed at the prospect of running down an escalator for the second time that evening. But my friends hadn’t descended to the lobby yet.
Stevie, kindly, lent me her shoes for the ride home. Which, despite everything, felt victorious. Nevermind that I was riding through clouds of dirt so thick it could be mistaken for fog. After a certain time at night trucks are allowed into the city of Delhi and they trail unidentifiable billows of gray ash in their wake. This is what I arrived wearing at my friend, Karuna’s, house, where I was staying. You wouldn’t have known from my appearance, then, any of the glamor of the night that had passed. I looked a bit more like I had been begging on the streets, or at least like I would be successful at it should I decide to.
I parked in “my spot” and the security guard jolted to his feet, dropping his woolen blanket as he stood. He blinked at me sleepily, before smiling in recognition. I bid him goodnight and dragged my slippered feet up the stairs, tired but delighted. It was still half an hour to midnight, and I had lost a shoe, but the only pumpkin of the evening had been deliciously curried.
I excavated my face from the dirt and makeup encasing it, hung the sari where it would not be forgotten till the mud became permanent, and slunk quietly into bed.
Two seconds later Karuna jolted awake.
“Emily? Is that you?”
“Yes. I was trying not to wake you.”
“How was the wedding?”
“Well. At 6:45 this evening . . . ” I began.
The next morning I got a text from the police officer.
Did you make it to your home? This is Officer Rohit.
I ignored it.
May we meet sometime?? SMS me back.
I definitely ignored them.
Call me. I want to see you. Call me please. Police Officer Rohit.