Number Fifteen: The Therapist

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Art Work: Aakash Dewan.

It’s a sweaty Friday afternoon – but we are indoors, wolfing down second helpings of chicken schezwan noodles, and trying to get the waiter to get our drinks (two large pegs of rum with a little cola, topped all the way with ice) to our table. The air is heavy with cigarette smoke and endless chatter – you can smell the waywardness of our lives. I want to ask him whether he would like to share a smoke – but first, I have something more important up my sleeve –

‘What’s your name?’

Squish. That’s the sound of your disappointment in me, isn’t it? In a long list of questions that one wishes they never have to ask on a date, this one wins the triathlon and is lounging by the finish line with a cocktail in hand, as the others hobble in. (Side note: when you are meeting someone through Grindr, not knowing a man’s name is almost as common as not knowing their favorite ice-cream flavour. Men like to hide behind fake names and blank profiles, reaching out to others from the confines of their hardwood-lined closets. Any deeper, and they could actually send us a postcard from Narnia. On an unrelated note, my favourite ice cream flavour? Salted caramel.)

‘How does knowing my name change anything?’ he asks, and I squint my eyes to see whether he’s joking. It’s dark and dinghy – an ideal spot to meet a stranger who won’t tell you his name. But how does it not? Maybe I want to open a joint account with him? Maybe he has a cardiac arrest and I want to take him to the hospital? Maybe it’s the last clue to a treasure hunt? Maybe I meet someone who’s an ideal match for him, but can’t introduce them simply because I don’t know his name? Maybe this, maybe that – there are so many maybes; I can sell them by the dozen.

What should I do? We’ve not even finished our first drink yet. I make an exception to the rule – I decide to call him John Doe. But for everyone else, he’s number fifteen.

It adds mystery to this setting, he suggests. But this is no game of Cluedo – (and if it were, I would have got him with a lead pipe in the conservatory) He’s a therapist – it’s second nature, he warns me as I shake my head in disapproval.

I laugh, and ask him whether I have to watch everything I say lest he make mental notes – it’s a silly question to ask in retrospect, it’s the foundation of most gay dates.

‘’Ha! This is a date, but I can ask you questions if you want me to?’

I tell him I’ll think about it. Where are the inkblot diagrams? The Rorschach test? The leather couch?

For now, we’ve got two quarters of rum, a plate of noodles and a bedbug-ridden booth; and it’s all under six hundred rupees. What more could we ask for?

Some compatibility, probably. I stifle a burp, and sink lower into my chair and my self. If I am going to be at a session, I might as well as make myself comfortable. He tells me nonchalantly that he’s on Grindr as a social experiment – he’s bicurious (has he ever had a girlfriend? Yes). I am only mildly annoyed. What sort of a social experiment?

He grew up in the city but always found it the wrong kind of exciting – something seemed amiss, like the aftermath of a drunken night. He logged in a month ago, to see what the other world had to offer. It seemed like an alternate universe, so many torsos, so many handsome bodies, and then –

And then, I popped up. It sounds like a meet cute from a Romcom, only this happens online and it’s not. He wanted a hook-up; I wanted hakka noodles. Wait, does he have a girlfriend now now?

You don’t get to ask questions, he tells me. I meekly gulp down a spoonful of noodles. Am I the problem?

Someday, I shall win an award for my self-doubt. But today is not the day. Our interactions online have played out like a game of chess – there were long gaps in between, and all the moves seemed to be calculated – we’d send each other a text, and then disappear for weeks on end – maybe we are playing different games of chess with different people. I know I am. Now would it be wrong if I get him to diagnose me?

I don’t think so. Where do I begin?

‘Ask away,’ I sigh.

Are you a cat person or a dog person? What is your favourite colour? What is my idea of happiness? If given a chance, would I want to be in a relationship? When was the last time I kissed someone? Have I ever been in love? We play along to a carousel of questions.

He hmm’s and haws as I tell him all my answers – I love cats. The colour purple. Yearlong clearance sales and gluten-free cakes. Only so that someone throws me a surprise birthday party every year. Two weeks ago. Twice in my life. And so on. They are classic answers for a classic gay man.

So can you tell me what is wrong with me?

‘You might have a drinking problem,’ he’s eyeing my third glass. It’s half full. I am sure he feels it’s half empty. I swing the glass back and finish it, and we call for the cheque. An hour and a half, and what do we have here?

Some undefined fears, and a mild headache. So where do we go from here – the most we can be is a one-time memory?

‘Your place?’ He asks – there are no qualms, no pretenses. I smile, and shake my head.

We could be friends? I bargain.

He seems very unsure, which makes me want him more – nothing turns me on like indifference. I laugh aloud and say goodbye, knowing very well I will never see him again. Why?

I’ve spent the last two hours thinking that he might be half full.

It turns out that he’s half empty.

  

The Date-o-meter: 4/10

Does this have a sequel? : No.

If this date were a song, it would be: ‘Zombie‘ By The Cranberries.

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