I grate my fingers on the underside of the sunmica table, as Eleven guffaws at his joke. It's unfunny, in an I-would-laugh-if-I-could-but-I-really-don't-want-to kind of way, especially when he's 15 minutes late and the joke is at my expense. I look at him closely. Why am I doing this again?
He looks like a bloated version of a Bollywood heartthrob, which is his only redeeming quality. He looks thinner in his pictures. It's early 2011; everybody looks thinner in their pictures in 2011. He's short, but not too short. He's fat, but not too fat. I am here, but I am not too here. He's fun, but not too...
No, wait. He's not fun at all. Do you know what I mean?
I yawn through a particularly 'gripping' tale of working as an executive producer on one of India's many reality shows, but he doesn't seem to notice. He coughs instead. He's telling me about how TRPs work. Halfway through his monologue, I realise I never asked him. What are we doing again?
"Gay men take to the world of television production like they take to Adele's soundtracks."
We are meeting for a post-work pick-me-up at a coffee shop in the richer side of Andheri, trying to see whether the spark we shared online is real. Why coffee?
He has an important meeting tomorrow that he simply can't afford to look puffy-eyed for. His eyes dart to the wall clock. I lie saying that he can never look puffy-eyed, out of sheer force of habit. He coughs again. Did he notice? Do I see the spark? Why am I asking myself so many questions?
Because I am that bored. (As for that spark? It's as staged as the show that he works on.)
Also, most dates are a template conversation of questions. Isn't the weather horrid today? Did you get any traffic? Is that shirt from Zara? What do you do in life? Is writing a real job? Does it keep you busy? Where do you stay? What are you looking for? Do you stay alone? Do you like me? Do I like you? Do I think I like you? Do I like the idea of liking you? And so on. They should have a questionnaire for such things, thank you very much.
How did he decide to work for TV? I ask. I decide to make the most of my turn. Gay men take to the world of television production like they take to Adele's soundtracks (it is 2011, after all.) One out of every five gay men works for TV, or at least knows someone that does. The statistics can never be wrong. Is it the money? Is it the glamour? Is it the fame? Is it the...
"Do you know how many television shows I get to watch before the rest of the world?" he leers. Cocky is only sexy when the boy is cute. Otherwise it is just unnecessary. I still laugh my fake laugh. (Side note: one must always keep up appearances, it's the polite thing to do at a bad date.) He doesn't seem to buy it this time. Our conversation goes downhill soon after, faster in fact than the sting operations his reality show covers.
"What is that smell?" he furrows his eyebrows. I secretly hope it's the smell of my mediocrity. He coughs again. (Well, what do you know? Maybe it is.) His eyes seem red. This is becoming a pattern. Hoping that he's not allergic to me, I ask him whether he's okay.
He's sniffling now. (Side note: Sniffling isn't sexy unless there's an underwear model attached to that runny nose.) "I think I am catching something," he says. He should catch a cab instead, but I don't say it out aloud. I usually stock the snarkiest of my zingers right where they belong -- in the inner recesses of my dark mind. And then, right on cue...
"Sniffling isn't sexy unless there's an underwear model attached to that runny nose."
He wheezes in a paper napkin and places it on the table. My hands slide away, and I make a mental note to chug half a bottle of cough syrup as soon as I get home. I hear the phlegm. Pretending like its normal to pass phlegm at the table, he beckons for the cheque.
CAUTION. System shut down. I repeat. System shut down.
"What do you want to do now?" I ask him half-heartedly, as the waiter gets the cheque and takes the dirty napkin away. I leave him a hefty tip, just in case.
The boy sniffles again, and looks at his watch. It's only 8 pm. I swear it seems like it has been longer. I give him a feeble smile. He has plans for dinner and needs to leave early, he tells me -- returning my smile with one of his own. Would I be okay if we cut this short? He asks. I cough, and tell him I would survive. I realise we both want the same thing, and it's not a cough drop. That's the last we both hear from each other.
I catch the flu the next day.
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