Chai Walla has chosen Luke’s, a cash-only bar/restaurant on the Upper East Side. I have been here many times because women from my volunteer group gather here after our headquarters closes. I have decided to wear my “putting on the pink, the hot pink cashmere v-neck sweater and a hot pink with small flowers Liberty cotton button-down from J. Crew ensemble” from the Mall of America date with Possible-Mate-from-Chicago.
The only twist is that I add two necklaces: a chunky green necklace and a long gold chain with an orb shaped pendant studded with crystals. I walk into Luke’s and look around the bar. Hhmmm, no date. So I walk into the restaurant portion, a man seated dipping his tea bag in a cup looks up and waves.
Well Chai Walla DOES NOT look like his photo. But I don’t either. Town and Country told me that before we met. In college Meera was not sure I was Indian until she heard me introduce myself, with my desi name. And I think I am better looking in person than photos anyway.
“Hey there,” I say when I sit down at the table and join Chai Walla. “Well, hello, any trouble finding the place?” he asks. “Nope,” I reply and refrain from telling him that I frequent this joint. No need to over-share. I think my qualities of being honest and loyal to a fault are my undoing. I end up in friendships where I am taken advantage of because I care too much. Because I don’t have my own back.
“So will you be having some tea?” Chai Walla asks. “Yes, it is 4 pm – tea time, but tea, not chai. I feel pretty confident Luke can’t make chai like my mother,” I say and sip my water. “Oh you know Luke personally?” Chai Walla asks somewhat amused. “No,” I reply and smile. “Will you have some New York style cheesecake?” he asks. I debate for a minute and reply, “No, I prefer my calories fried not sweet.” “Oh calamari then?” he suggest. “With high tea?” I ask. “Why not it’s fusion,” Chai Walla says. Fusion works for me.
We start talking. He tells me I can ask him anything I like. Clearly he likes to talk about himself, so I ask about growing up in India, his three older sisters, and his work (which is very slow, but he is hoping they pick up projects). “What do you?” I ask. “Oh you know, consulting – a partner – doing strategy for the government,” he says. This is oddest employment description I have ever gotten from a desi. We are pretty quick to say, surgeon, banker, taxi cab driver. “Where do you live?” I ask. “Upper East Side. When I found the building I wanted to live in, I bribed the super to make sure he told me when an apartment became available. Been here for 10 years, but I really want to go to DC,” Chai Walla says. “Not me, I am happy in the Big Apple,” I reply. He smirks and leans in. “So those necklaces you have on, are they part of the dowry?” I cannot tell if he is joking or insane, so I smirk back and say, “they are from J. Crew. And we’re not dowry people in my family.”
It is when I ask him about his ex-wife he freezes like Medusa shot him “the look”. It makes me turn around and wonder if the Ex-Wife walked into Luke’s. “What is it?” I ask. “It was painful. She said she loved me. But wanted the green card. It took me some time to figure it out. But when I did I gave her all the money she wanted to get rid of her,” he says with no bite or bitterness. But there is something very dead inside of him. Something that tells me he still has LOTS to work through in order to move on. And I cannot be his therapist. So at the end of this date, I will walk away graciously. One Town and Country emotional roller coaster ride is more than Desi Girl can take in this life time.